KNOXVILLE – In the midst of coach Derek Dooley’s absence from practice on Wednesday and in preparation for him coaching from the press box against Mississippi State, the message was clear from all of Tennessee’s assistant coaches.
There will be few, if any, differences on Saturday.
“As a staff, we’re trying to maintain our responsibilities we always have,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “I don’t expect any differences in terms of the game, quite honestly.”
Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri echoed Chaney’s thoughts about the situation, saying that practice went as well as ever on Wednesday, and that he doesn’t anticipate any major differences on Saturday when Dooley coaches from the press box after undergoing hip surgery on Tuesday.
Though Sunseri will be the highest-ranking assistant coach on the sideline during the game, all game-management situations will still be defered to Dooley, who will be in touch with all of the coaches through the headsets. Sunseri confirmed that Dooley will still be the one deciding issues such as time outs and challenges, and he will relay his decision to the coaches on the field.
"It's really easy because he is going to be up in the press box talking to me when the defense is on the field and he is going to be talking to one of the other coaches on offense when the offense is on the field we are going to manage it just fine," Sunseri said. "Coach has it totally managed; we've already talked about it as a staff. We have a plan and we will execute our plan."
Wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw, who will be one of the coaches on the field, pointed out that most communication comes through the headsets, even for the coaches who are on the field. Crowd noise often prevents coaches from easily communicating on the field.
“It’s not like coach Dooley and I have a lot of face-to-face chats during a game,” he said. “We talk on the headsets even if we’re right by each other, so not a lot will change for us.”
It will also be a different experience for Chaney and safeties coach Josh Conklin, both of whom will be in the press box with Dooley. Neither has ever worked side by side with a head coach in the box during a game. Chaney joked that it could cause a few tense moments.
"I am sure he will yell at me, I'll yell at him and we will get right through it and move on with the game,” he said. “That is what happens. I won't yell at him, he's my boss, you know how that goes."
More playing time for Toney: Sunseri said that solid work on special teams is one of the reasons the coaching staff is making an effort to get more defensive playing time for cornerback Jaron Toney.
Toney is a redshirt sophomore walk-on who transitioned from running back to cornerback during spring practice. He is pushing junior Eric Gordon for time as the team’s starting nickelback.
“The kid has made some plays, he has done a good job and he will have an opportunity to get out there and show what he can do," Sunseri said.
The Alcoa, Tenn., native has appeared in four games this season and has been credited with two tackles.
Managing Maggitt: Sophomore linebacker Curt Maggit has spent the week in a red, non-contact jersey as he recovers from a lingering turf toe injury. It’s the type of injury that can be played on, but it doesn’t truly get better without an extended break.
That’s not a luxury the Vols can give to their starting linebacker at this point in the season, but last week’s bye did give him a quick opportunity to stay off of it.
"Managing him has been tough,” Sunseri said. “We are resting him and he is ready to go. Young kids playing in this conference is tough. You know the physicality in this league. The bottom line is that I think he is better. He is more rested and his toe is feeling better, so things are good."
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.